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This article was published on January 24, 2012

Google+ new name policy: Too little, too late

Google+ new name policy: Too little, too late
Anna Heim
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Anna Heim

Anna Heim is the founder of MonoLibre and a freelance writer for various tech and startup publications. She is a polyglot French news junkie Anna Heim is the founder of MonoLibre and a freelance writer for various tech and startup publications. She is a polyglot French news junkie with a love for technology.

As we reported, Google+ has finally answered the criticism its real name policy received, and its VP Product Bradley Horowitz has just announced several changes.

However, negative comments have already started to show up; despite months of wait, there are many things Google is still getting wrong.

Cultural understanding

Although we all know Google is an American company, the fact that it has users all across the globe means that it’s not very sensitive to say names spelled in non-Latin characters are “in another script”. For millions of people, this “other script” is the original spelling of their name, while English is the actual alternate spelling. Still, we have to admit it’s only a detail, and these users will be pleased to know they can now add their real name to their user profile.

Integrated identities

What’s more worrisome is Google’s integrated name policy. Says Bradley Horowitz:

“It’s important to remember that when you change your name in Google+, you’re changing it across all services that require a Google Profile.”

We are many things to many people, and that’s what most nicknames are about; we wouldn’t necessarily want our parents to know how our friends call us, and vice-versa.

Yet, with Google’s approach, not only will all our contacts see our full name and nickname, but every single person we will email (and have ever emailed?) with Gmail will also know.

Will we have to create secondary email accounts if we don’t want to disclose our full identity every time we send an email?  If our profile is private, how will we make sure that someone won’t mention us in public, hence making our name and nickname show up in Google search results?

One thing is for sure, this is a huge missed opportunity – after all, didn’t Google+ acknowledge early on that our social life revolves around different Circles?


There are quite a few figures in Horowitz’s posts: 20% of name appeals come from businesses, and 20% would either prefer to use a pseudonym or another unconventional name.

However, these suddenly disappear when it comes to revealing the criteria for a pseudonym to be acceptable. The appeal process has been clarified, and one of the receivable ways to confirm a name is to show “Proof of an established identity online with a meaningful following,” Google says.

But what’s a meaningful following? Is using a pseudonym a privilege reserved to Lady Gaga, 50 Cent and their VIP friends? Or could the Australian geek Skud get her suspended account back? Only time – and possible PR disasters- will tell.


As a commenter pointed out, using other online destinations as a proof of identity also means that Google would be nothing more than a secondary social network.

In other words, if an online activist concerned about their security wants to use a pseudonym to report what’s going on in their country, they will have to build a following on Twitter or elsewhere before being able to create a Google+ profile – not very ambitious from a company like Google.

Please wait a second before calling us ‘trolls’ or haters’ – if I and other people are pointing out these flaws, it’s because we sincerely hope Google+ will become a great Facebook alternative.

As a matter of fact, it’s still time to shape its future; as Horowitz himself pointed out,  Google+ is still refining the way it handle names and identity, based on the feedback it receives. So if you have any comments, now is the time to make your voice heard.

Update: Google PR reached out to us about the following items:

  • On Google+ real name policy: “We’ve always referred to it as our common names policy.”
  • On non-Latin characters: “We have never said, that only non-Latin characters are considered to be “another script.” By “another script,” we mean any script that is not the one you have already used for your main first and last name fields. For example, if I had signed up for Google+ with my name in Chinese characters as the main script, then now I have the option to also include Latin script alongside the Chinese characters, and vice versa. Users have always been able to fill out their names in non-Latin scripts.”
    Note: this last sentence is only partially true, as profiles have already been flagged for using more than one character set.
  • On Gmail: “There is “Send Mail as:” field in the settings, where you can choose how your email will be rendered to recipients. For Gmail, that setting overrides any changes to the Google+ profile name.”

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